As of 2:53 pm on July 22, I am finally cleared to go on the trip to Nepal that I have had planned for four months and have had tickets for since April. Nerve-wracking does not begin to describe the experience.
Word to the wise: when planning overseas travel for credit (like for your MPH Field Experience), choose somewhere innocuous like France or Spain. Do not choose somewhere that has little to nothing in common with the US and where even the smallest blips in the political radar will cause the US state department to become unglued and insist that travelling there is against your better judgment. In fact, not only is travelling there against your better judgment, but you will probably run into terrorists, get mugged, have your glasses smashed and contract the pox. When that has been dealt with expect appendicitis, the plague, rabies and a poke in the eye with a sharp stick while someone stomps on your toe.
Seriously, with the hoops you have to jump through to get University approval, just go see the Seine.
I decided awhile ago that I wanted to do an international project for my Field Experience for my Masters degree. I had to work through undergrad and never really had a chance to do much travelling, so I thought that this would be a great opportunity to remedy that situation.
Last January I started planning a project and figuring out what I would want to do. At this point, I had a pretty serious advantage over the rest of the world – my best friend *just so happens* to work for an international volunteer organization and was able to help me maneuver a pretty incredible opportunity examining health system development in Nepal. The fact that I would be able to see a beautiful country, meet some beautiful people, and see parts of the world that most people only get to dream of were a slight bit of motivation as well. I will be able to work with a non-profit program in Kathmandu as well as a rural, NGO-run clinic in rural Nepal. The national funding scheme in Nepal doesn’t really extend to the non-urban population (also the vast majority of the population), so I will be looking at the role of NGO’s in basic care provision, and how they figure into the existing Nepal “health system” currently as well as in the future.
The money aspect of this whole experience, seeing as how I don’t have access to my trust fund yet and have yet to find a working money tree or sugar daddy, involved some creativity. I applied for several university and non-university-based grants to pay for the trip in varying levels of involvement. I ended up receiving a grant for the trip from the Upper Midwest Human Rights Fund who are incredible and have given me more support in this escapade than I could have imagined. If you ever need to secure funding for a field experience or other educational travel experience you should apply. Likewise, if you have extra money hanging around that’s just getting in your way (no one likes extra dusting, after all), then you should seriously consider donating to this amazing organization. That is all.
The preparations for this trip have involved a lot (A LOT) of pre-planning. Going to a developing nation while associated with a public university (especially a slightly paranoid one like the University of Minnesota) is going to involve more than you anticipate. It can be done, but it’s going to be more effort than you think it will.
So. Trip planned and packed for. Visa are arranged and passports are ready to go. I’m still a bit concerned about the trip over there. I got a crazy insane discount on airfare through cheapoair but as a result I will be travelling Denver-Newark-Mumbai-New Delhi-Kathmandu for an approximate total inflight time of 25 hours and a total flight time of 34ish hours. I’m going to arrive in Nepal stinky, cranky, jet-lagged and in total and complete awe of where I am.
I will be staying in a group volunteer house for the majority of my trip with western companionship for weekend excursions and navigating the area. Meals are also included in this lovely package deal I’ve scored, though in Nepal, food primarily consists of rice, lentils and veggies with a sauce – dal baat. Lots of roughage – evidently the entire nation is incredibly regular, should also make the whole “squat toilet” business super fun.
Speaking of squat toilets (and you know you’re glad I used that to kick off this paragraph – who doesn’t like a good squat toilet?), it’s one of many cultural differences that I’m frankly a bit nervous about. I’ve heard that nodding and shaking your head mean totally different things than they do here, you are not to use your left hand, showing knees and/or shoulders is a sign you are a bit of a hooker or a gauche tourist and bare feet are insulting. I anticipate, despite my best intentions and careful conduct, I will manage to insult someone somewhere within 45 minutes of my arrival. I just hope my apologetic and embarrassed face crosses the boundaries of space, time and Nepali. I’m sure some of this nervous energy is just the result of a lack of previous travel (not counting Canada and Mexico, though they are lovely, lovely places you should all visit. Hi guys! Hola! How’s it going, eh?), so I’m sure I’m over thinking all of this and it will be fine once I arrive.
Despite appearances, I am trying to keep myself from developing fixed expectations about this adventure. I have no idea what I’m really getting into, so I don’t want to ruin it by creating some sort of imaginary wonderland that will just get smashed once I arrive. I’ll be taking notes and sharing as much as I can with you when I have access to a computer. If there’s anything you want to know, just ask. Maybe we can have a Q&A session in a couple of weeks – kind of like the Actors’ Studio, except without an actor, a studio or James Lipton.
And with that note, I need to leave to get on an airplane for the foreseeable future. I have books, ipod and assorted other occupations that should hopefully see me through. If all else fails, I’ll lead the passengers in a rousing rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic and call it a day. I hope I haven’t bored you to death and I’ll talk to you all shortly.